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THE BUSINESS “CULTURE OF SAFETY” by Nick Nicholson

It has been said that to make a successful business requires vision, drive, persistence and constant newer and bigger goals. A really big aspect is to ignore the naysayers who will tell you it can’t be done and there are lots of those.

One of the biggest mistakes, however, that business leaders make is not making “safety” a prime factor in the business. So many look at it as a “cost of doing business” and forget it or place it low on the priority list. If a workforce is part of the business, that workforce will take its leadership from the top and a low safety priority spreads very quickly. That’s the beginning of a downfall.

There is a “trickle down” effect that eventually gets to the customers and “word of mouth” leads to distrust and that leads to failure. It may happen very suddenly as these things tend to gain momentum. You don’t ever want to be in that “scramble” position.

So, where does a safety culture begin? It should start with the vision. No venture should begin unless it can be done safely. That key element must be passed from the leader to the first employee and everyone that is hired after that. Each person must be made aware that he or she is responsible for the safety of the whole unit. When any safety issue arises, the particular aspect involved should stop until the issue is overcome or, at least, “risk” evaluated. When it is overcome, it must be passed along immediately to educate the entire workforce. If that results in a policy, then each person must be informed, trained in prevention, and it must be verified that it is understood.

Any injury is a cost that the business can’t afford. Governments have spent billions reacting to injuries and drawing up rules and procedures for the prevention of injury repetition. These must become part of your business from the leader to the newest employee. There are very high costs involved that can be reduced to a minimum if, the workforce, the customers, and the general public are protected from injury. It is a wasted cost of doing business IF, management is not fully behind it and the workforce is not going to participate.

When a mistake happens, and they will, the organization must be doing well enough to override the costs. An extremely big part of that is controlling the expenditures as they relate to injuries and doing it very quickly.

The government intervention has resulted in a “no fault” insurance program to protect businesses from being sued by injured workers. The word “compensation” is often related to this intervention but the cost of this can be enormous. Originally designed to protect the business from crippling overheads, the administrative costs of government intervention today, can place a very heavy burden on business, unless you know how to minimize it.

Minimizing compensation costs requires full attention from the day of the injury. What many leaders do not realize is that governmental administration fees far outweigh the actual rehabilitation costs of any injury. Percentages in the thousands result in certain groups of employers paying billions of dollars more than actual injury costs. Action taken on the day of injury can save millions.

There is a partial solution. A safety culture within the organization, making everybody responsible, held to a high standard by continual reporting to the top executive is key. The slightest “ripple” is cause for immediate action.

First, is the culture of safety within your own organization. Making Bruce-in-safety-equipmentsure that everybody, from executive sales to the janitor understands that he or she is responsible for stopping what they believe to be an unsafe action, circumstance or hazard immediately before someone is injured. It also must be understood by all, that such action is to be applauded, not criticized. Only then, will the safety culture work. At no time, should any employee hesitate or fear reaction or reprisal from above, for stopping production due to a real or perceived safety issue. That last statement is paramount to producing a positive attitude within the workforce. The human brain delights in the feeling of being acknowledged, being listened to and knowing that the “boss” cares about each of them, personally. Again, it goes to the top.

Second, somebody must take the time to mitigate administration costs of the “no-fault” insurance system. “Injury-free” does not exclude an organization from high costs created by other businesses from past experiences. That governmental cost is built in as soon as the first employee is hired. That automatic government cost can be mitigated, either by the owner/CEO, a competent safety professional or human resources administrator, depending on the size of the organization. That action is key to keeping your profits from going to the government.

So, a “safety culture” is an internal responsibility system owned, respected and practiced by the entire workforce on a daily basis. There is a tremendous amount of information involved with this. The prime function is to keep everybody from injury or everything from collateral damage. The secondary function is to constantly embrace this process and encourage all to participate. The third is to set into place a process that minimizes the automatic governmental cost of being in business. That, by the way, is the “safety cost of doing business”. Ensure that it is kept to the bare minimum.

About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council

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